NASA has yet another record under its belt: the fastest inflation of a parachute. The milestone was achieved with the Mars 2020 parachute, which was tested in early September using Earth’s atmosphere and a Black Brant IX sounding rocket. The parachute was packed as a payload, ultimately separating from the rocket to fall back to Earth.
The new record was set on September 7, 2018, as part of a test involving the Mars 2020 parachute. The payload featuring the parachute separated from the aforementioned rocket only two minutes after it launched from Earth. This resulted in the parachute diving back down through the planet’s atmosphere while a variety of sensors monitored the conditions.
According to NASA, those sensors were used to trigger the parachute’s deployment at precisely the right time, which was at a 38-kilometer altitude with a Mach 1.8 speed. The parachute, which is quite massive and weighs 180lbs, burst from its cylinder in only four-tenths of a second.
This created a peak load of nearly 70,000lbs of force, according to NASA, earning it a record for the fastest inflation of a parachute this large. This was an important success for the space agency, which plans to use the parachute to help land its Mars 2020 rover on the Red Planet in early 2021.
According to NASA JPL’s Mars 2020 project manager John McNamee:
Mars 2020 will be carrying the heaviest payload yet to the surface of Mars, and like all our prior Mars missions, we only have one parachute and it has to work. The ASPIRE tests have shown in remarkable detail how our parachute will react when it is first deployed into a supersonic flow high above Mars. And let me tell you, it looks beautiful.